Tropical Storm Iota, 30th storm of historic season, could strengthen into major hurricane

David Schutz, Brooke Baitinger and Wayne K. Roustan, Sun Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — In what has already been the most active hurricane season in recorded history, Tropical Storm Iota continued to expand and strengthen over the Caribbean Sea on Saturday, with the potential to reach major hurricane strength, the National Hurricane Center said.

Iota is the 30th tropical system this year, and is forecast to intensify rapidly and be at or near major hurricane strength, with winds at or near 110 mph, when it makes landfall in Central America, forecasters said.

The storm is expected to approach the coast of Nicaragua and northeastern Honduras Monday afternoon or evening, accompanied by a life-threatening storm surge and flooding rains, the hurricane center said in its 4 p.m. Saturday forecast discussion.

Named after the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet, Iota (pronounced ee-oh-tah), isn’t expected to take the same turn to the north that Eta did before hitting Florida earlier this week. It could, however, make the journey into the Pacific Ocean, become a rare crossover storm that gets renamed.

At 4 p.m. Saturday, Tropical Storm Iota was 375 miles south of Kingston, Jamaica, moving west-southwest and gathering speed at 7 mph. Iota’s maximum sustained winds had picked up to near 60 mph. Its expanding tropical storm-force winds extend outward up to 105 miles from the center, the hurricane center said.

Forecasters expect Iota to continue to increase forward speed through the weekend as it moves across the central Caribbean Sea and approaches the coasts of Nicaragua and northeastern Honduras on Monday.

In the Caribbean, Iota could bring heavy rainfall and flooding to portions of Haiti and Jamaica, with possible landslides, forecasters said.

The 2020 hurricane season became the busiest in recorded history when Tropical Storm Theta formed on Nov. 9. Theta is still active in the far eastern Atlantic but is of no immediate threat to land.

Tropical Storm Eta became the first storm of the 2020 hurricane season to make landfall in Florida when it moved over the Florida Keys last Sunday. It made a second landfall just south of Cedar Key early Thursday.

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